Reviewer: Jake Beal

Author: Elizabeth Bear

Published: 2005

Reviewed: 2006-05-04

Publisher: Bantam Books

If you haven't read the first two books in Ms. Bear's trilogy,
"Hammered" and "Scardown", you should read them before this book.
"Worldwired" was decidedly NOT an escalation on "Scardown," and for
that I thank Ms. Bear profoundly. Many authors, once they've
ratcheted the drama scale up, seem afraid to pull it back down, and
the series just gets more and more out of control as time goes on.
"Worldwired" was not such a book.

In fact, it just occurred to me that this remarkable set of books
perfectly inverts the standard rhythm of the trilogy. Your average
trilogy (like, say, "The Lord of the Rings") rises to a bang at the
end of the first book, then bubbles along building for the second
book, and brings everything to a conclusion with another bang in the
final book. In this series, the first book draws things together to
set up for the second book, and in the second book everything comes
to a head with a very big bang. The third book plays cleanup.

In "Worldwired," the characters deal with the political, scientific,
and ecological fallout of the second book. The story branches into
parallel tales, though both are populated with the same characters:
there's some vicious multitasking going on in more ways than one. On
the one hand, it's a story about the difficulties of learning to
communicate during first contact with aliens. On the other hand, it's
a story about war crimes tribunals and global politics.

I like it a lot. Mostly the same characters, though some have died or
faded in importance and a few new ones are introduced or rise out of
the background. Much of the interpersonal angst from the earlier
books has faded as the characters come to terms with one another and
begin to heal. And by the end of the book the main character, Jenny
Casey, has reached her own personal resolution---probably. You get no
certainties from Ms. Bear, so long as a character is still alive.

The tone of this book is very different from the previous two, and I
found the change in tone appropriate and not jarring. The
circumstances have changed, after all. Not only that, but it shows
the versatility of Ms. Bear as a writer.

And anyway, I always want to know what happens the morning after in a
story. You know, like you're reading an action story and the hero
defies orders in order to go find the bomb he's sure is there and
defuses it just in the nick of time and has a dramatic fight with the
bad guy and everybody cheers. Well, what about the court martial
afterwards? Does his relationship with the plucky heroine last, and
if so, how?

That's really what this book is about. The morning after. The
stories that don't stop at the climax---they never do in the real
world, though sometimes we're at a loss for a while, or just go take a
vacation. There's some action, and it's very critical to the
developing future world story, but it's aftershocks. The scale has
ratcheted down again, and that's a very good thing.

I find it interesting that I'm not bubbling over with praise the way
that I was after the second book. I think there's a reason, and I
think it's not a bad thing. For one thing, the second book raised my
expectations of Ms. Bear as an author, and so it is not so startling
to find them fulfilled. For another, this book isn't as hair-raising
a ride: that doesn't mean it's any less good, but it means you aren't
gasping for breath when you're through.

Oh, and I still find the cover art ludicrous. They put the heroine in
a tight'n'sexy uniform of a different design on each one, with her
face off the top of the page so they don't have to admit that she's
50. I know you can't judge a book by its cover, but why do publishers
always try to make good books look like wet-dream material?

In summary, I highly recommend this book to anybody who has read the
first two. Not that I really need to, since you'll probably be hooked
by that point. But don't read this book before reading the others:
the sequence is very important, and though you won't be at a loss
about what's going on, you'll miss the excitement of getting to the
start of this book.